Creating a place to play

Sleeping Giant presses forward with maintenance, upgrades

Posted 9/28/23

As management surveyed upgrades on the grounds at Sleeping Giant on a beautiful fall day, hopes for snow equivalent to the 2022/23 season were sent upwards to the heavens.

“We’ll …

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Creating a place to play

Sleeping Giant presses forward with maintenance, upgrades


As management surveyed upgrades on the grounds at Sleeping Giant on a beautiful fall day, hopes for snow equivalent to the 2022/23 season were sent upwards to the heavens.

“We’ll open the first weekend of December,” said owner Nick Piazza. “But we might even try to sneak a Thanksgiving [opening] in, you know, if God lets us.”

If it does snow enough by the November national holiday, it will be a great time to unveil the ski lodge’s newest attraction — a tubing park, he said. The team at Sleeping Giant has been working on clearing fallen and dead trees and large rocks from the western portion of the mountainside to make the three-run attraction for those who aren’t skiing, yet still want to join in the winter fun.

The attraction is just one of several upgrades the company is making to become more sustainable. With more than $1 million in investments in the property in the past four years, Sleepy G (as the kids call it) has made several improvements, including lights for adventure after dark, snow making machines, much needed maintenance on chair lifts — which cost about half of their investment fund — and increasing skiable areas for both beginning and advanced skiers and snowboarders.

The company received a $55,000 grant this year from the Park County Travel Council to help build and buy equipment for the tubing park and construct the service road.

Work on the grounds has produced a couple huge changes by adding new and improved runs and increasing safety at the facility by building a service road on the Sheepeater side of the mountain that will allow emergency crews to get to the top quickly. The road will also allow the snowcat to make it to the top of the mountain, which will allow for more trail grooming.

They were able to obtain many tons of aggregate materials free of charge for the project from the Wyoming Department of Transportation, accepting all the dirt and rocks that washed out near the ski lodge on the North Fork Highway (U.S. Highway 14/16/20) in a heavy rain event last year. The amount of material is somewhat staggering.

“They were like, hey, it’s certified weed free and it’s from the forest, so you can use it. And we were like, ‘cool, we’ll use it for the tubing park.’ And then they gave us about 20 years worth of dirt by the time they were finished,” Piazza said.


The top priority

While safety is the top priority, increasing useable space on the property is also important to sustain the company.

“The road will allow us to expand groom-able areas and improve safety at the top of the mountain. Ski patrol pointed the issue out to us and we’re glad to get it taken care of,” Piazza said.

The work is being supervised by Operations Manager Jonathan Algarin, who came to the mountain with heavy equipment and logging operations experience. He has spent more time on the mountain than most, looking for ways to increase the size of skiable terrain and building and improving new features, including the tubing and terrain parks.

“I think people are just gonna find in general, the runs are more scalable, wider and cleaner,” Algarin said. “We already have plans in place for grooming and harvesting snow to keep everything useable, including our two new terrain parks.”

He plans to have a snow cross track going in this winter and they’re adding more fun to the terrain park, he said, and hopes to bring back the Bales and Rails Festival, which features a series of fun jumps and built obstacles.

Increasing the length of runs is also important and could be “the ticket to bring back some high school races,” Piazza said.

The only high school Alpine ski team in the Big Horn Basin, Cody, has its home invite at Red Lodge Mountain in Montana.

The ski lodge only uses about 10% of the grounds (due to the terrain) it leases from the Forest Service and it hopes to increase the useable land through the coming years, including the possibility of negotiating the use of property outside of the ski border on the east side of the mountain that was previously used for a chair lift.

For Sleeping Giant to eventually be profitable, it needs to offer more acreage, Piazza said.

“It’s there. It’s cut. We wouldn’t be massively changing anything. So we think it’s a reasonable ask,” he said, adding, “I think they’ve been very good at trying to find reasonable win/win situations for both sides. The Forest Service’s job is conservation. Our job is to run a ski resort and I think everything we’ve done meets both of our needs.”

While pointing out the eastern skiable border, a young grizzly bear moved through the trees toward the top of the mountain, demonstrating — almost on cue — the importance of conservation in the area.


Software upgrade

Another safety improvement, something you can’t see from the road, is new software upgrades. Knowing how many people and where skiers are on the mountain is important in the event of an emergency, said General Manager Elizabeth Wells. It will also help deter skiers who are slipping past the ticket office and, instead, heading straight to the lifts without paying.

Customers will soon notice the improvements with a streamlined online presence, Wells said.

“Instead of having five different software [packages], we’ll just have one. People will actually be able to go online and do all their season pass setup, payment, waivers and pictures online ahead of time if they want,” she said.

The software is specifically designed for ski lodges and is used at many facilities around the country, she said.

In the coming years, Wells hopes to also increase summer use of the mountain. While the zip line is popular, it is labor intensive. She would like to explore ideas, including hiking and disc golf, that will help the facility stay open through the summer. All activities are negotiated with the Forest Service, which can take time.

Part of the investment in the facility and surrounding communities has come in giving back to the customers, Piazza said. To date, the ski lodge has donated about $100,000 in free passes to school children and those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the trip, he said.


The Bedrock

The management team is in for the long haul. For the first time in years they are all returning. Prior to the current team, management changed multiple times during the previous owners’ tenure and as Piazza looked for the right members to run the facility.

“I think you’re looking at the bedrock of the future Sleeping Giant,” Piazza said while introducing Wells and Algarin. “This is the first team that we’ve kept for more than one year. If we looked at years past, we put a lot of money into [the facility], but we didn’t get a lot out in terms being able to grow a team. Now I’m super excited because we have a core team in place and we can finally invest around them.”

It’s not an easy job, but one that is satisfying, Wells said.

“How many jobs are dedicated to giving people a place to play?” she said.